Crucial information from Lester Bangs interview with Eno
“I’m very good with technology, I always have been, and with machines in general. They seem to me not threatening like other people find them, but a source of great fun and amusement, Iike grown up toys really. You can either take the attitude that it has a function and you can learn how to do it, or you can take an attitude that it’s just a black box that you can manipulate any way you want. And that’s always been the attitude I’ve taken, which is why I had a lot of trouble with engineers, because their whole background is learning it from a functional point of view, and then learning how to perform that function. So I made a rule very early on, which I’ve kept to, which was that I would never write down any setting that I got on the synthesizer, no matter how fabulous a sound I got. And the reason for that is that I know myself well enough to know that if I had a stock of fabulous sounds I would just always use them. I wouldn’t bother to find new ones. So it was a way of trying to keep the instrument fresh. Also I let it decay, it keeps breaking down and changes all the time. There are a lot of things I’ve done before that I couldn’t even do again if I wanted to.”
Eno, interviewed by Paul Morley “The thing is…An Interview”
about his book “A Year With Swollen Appendices”
extract from “A Year…” from blog.thoughtwax.com
7 May (p109), on writing music with computers:
New piece of music this morning — lyrical, heterophonic, with rare chord changes. How difficult or discouraged are changes when working with sequencers! The effect of computer sequencing is to split music into vertical blocks with sheer edges. The whole feeling of the dynamic between ‘locked’ and ‘unlocked’ — so important in played music — is thus sacrificed in favour of ‘always locked’. The result is literary linearity rather than musical all-at-onceness.
Heterophony (defiition from The Textures of Music)
A heterophonic texture is rare in Western music. In heterophony, there is only one melody, but different variations of it are being sung or played at the same time.
Heterophony can be heard in the Bluegrass, “mountain music”, Cajun, and Zydeco traditions. Listen for the tune to be played by two instruments (say fiddle and banjo) at the same time, with each adding the embellishments, ornaments, and flourishes that are characteristic of the instrument.
Some Middle Eastern, South Asian, central Eurasian, and Native American music traditions include heterophony. Listen for traditional music (most modern-composed music, even from these cultures, has little or no heterophony) in which singers and/or instrumentalists perform the same melody at the same time, but give it different embellishments or ornaments.
Examples of heterophonic music:
Brian Eno’s “Discreet Music” – and here’s a illustration of the hardware setup for performing the piece
Spotify – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
Spotify – Here Come The Warm Jets
Eno Books – More Dark Than Shark
Brian Eno: His Music And The Vertical Colour Of Sound
…and here’s an extract describing some of his production techniques – from “The Albums” in Chapter 8
For his first solo album, Here Come the Warm Jets of 1973, Eno brought some sixteen musicians into the studio (several of whom he had worked with previously) and assembled a set of ten songs that in some respects were derivative, in some respects experimental, and in other ways strikingly anticipated developments in the punk and new wave rock of the late 1970s.
The album’s title turned to be a poetic reference to urination. The credits, which, as on all of Eno’s progressive rock records, meticulously list who played what on which tracks, *2 note that “Eno sings … and (occasionally) plays simplistic keyboards, snake guitar, electric larynx and synthesizer, and treats the other instruments.” “Snake guitar” and “electric larynx” are the first of many such whimsical terms that Eno coined to describe given sounds either by their timbral character or their means of production. Although the songs are composed by Eno, Eno/Manzanera, Eno/Fripp, and Eno (arr. Thompson/Jones/Judd/Eno), Eno was the controlling force behind the album’s creation, as well as its producer. In the music of Here Come the Warm Jets, references, probably both intentional and unintentional, to the history of rock abound: in Eno’s vocal style, which in some songs is directly modelled on the idiosyncracies of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, in the standard formal outlines and harmonic structure of many of the songs, and in specific sound-types such as the neo-fifties tinkling piano and falsetto “ahs” of “Cindy Tells Me” [from 2:30] or the characteristic drum rhythms of “Blank Frank” (modelled on Bo Diddley’s classic “Who Do You Love” which had been covered by several groups). Eno’s own musical personality emerges, however, in the highly varied uses of texture and instrumentation, in the formal experimentation (for instance, in “On Some Faraway Beach,” in which the vocal melody enters [at 2:53], tacked on almost as an afterthought, only after several minutes of an instrumental set of variations), and in the special attention paid to timbre (as in the
*2 For full listings of the musicians on this and other albums, see “Eno Discography,” 337. 98
hymn-like vocal and electronic keyboard sonorities of “Some of Them Are Old”). All in all, Here Come the Warm Jets is refined ore from the same vein of quirky, intentionally mannered progressive rock mined by groups like Roxy Music and Gentle Giant.
Here Come the Warm Jets was recorded in twelve days, a short span of time by modern studio standards. Eno’s role was as much instigator and manipulator as composer. Describing his studio technique at the time, he said that he would listen to what the musicians were playing (the chord and rhythm changes presumably having been established beforehand), and “then I’ll take what they’re doing and say, ‘What position does this put me in?,’ and ‘how can I justify the musical idea to suit?’“ *3 With his progressive rock albums, Eno was interested in assembling groups of musicians because they’re incompatible and not because they’re compatible. I’m only interested in working, really, with people I don’t agree with or who have a different direction. Particularly on Here Come the Warm Jets – I assembled musicians who normally wouldn’t work together in any real-life situation. And I got them together merely because I wanted to see what happens when you combine different identities like that and you allow them to compete. My role is to coordinate them, synthesize them, furnish the central issue which they all will revolve around, producing a hybrid … [The situation] is organized with the knowledge that there might be accidents, accidents which will be more interesting than what I had intended.
*4 So much, it would seem, for the overriding authority and pre-existence of a definite compositional intent. Albums like Here Come the Warm Jets are somewhat like group improvisation within certain limits. Or, to put it more precisely, the residues of the group improvisation furnish the block of marble whose properties – grain, shape, size – Eno the sculptor then contemplates and carves out according to an empirically-derived idea of what the end result should look like – though this idea itself is subject to change at any stage of the process. Eno’s actual role in the making of albums like Here Come the Warm Jets was thus obviously not that of the traditional composer, who conceives and writes out a score from which parts are transcribed and which musicians then play, or even that of the popular songwriter, who is often less concerned with arrangement, performance, and recording than simply with crafting melody and harmony. Eno’s role was somewhat paradoxical: although he retained complete artistic control over the final product, he was at pains not to suppress the spontaneous creativity of his musicians.
*3 Geoff Brown, “Eno’s Where It’s At,” Melody Maker 48 (10 Nov. 1973), 41.
*4 Cynthia Dagnal, “Eno and the Jets: Controlled Chaos,” Rolling Stone 169 (12 Sept. 1974), 21.
“Both Schmidt and Eno realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive when the pressure was off. The Strategies were, then, a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking – to jog the mind.”
Eno discusses the Oblique Strategies at greatest length in an interview with Charles Amirkhanian, conducted at KPFA in Berkeley in early 1980:
“These cards evolved from our separate working procedures. It was one of the many cases during the friendship that he [Peter Schmidt] and I where we arrived at a working position at almost exactly the same time and almost in exactly the same words. There were times when we hadn’t seen each other for a few months at a time sometimes, and upon remeeting or exchanging letters, we would find that we were in the same intellectual position – which was quite different from the one we’d been in prior to that.
The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when the panic of the situation – particularly in studios – tended to make me quickly forget that there were others ways of working and that there were tangential ways of attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the direct head-on approach. If you’re in a panic, you tend to take the head-on approach because it seems to be the one that’s going to yield the best results Of course, that often isn’t the case – it’s just the most obvious and – apparently – reliable method. The function of the Oblique Strategies was, initially, to serve as a series of prompts which said, “Don’t forget that you could adopt *this* attitude,” or “Don’t forget you could adopt *that* attitude.”
The first Oblique Strategy said “Honour thy error as a hidden intention.” And, in fact, Peter’s first Oblique Strategy – done quite independently and before either of us had become conscious that the other was doing that – was …I think it was “Was it really a mistake?” which was, of course, much the same kind of message. Well, I collected about fifteen or twenty of these and then I put them onto cards. At the same time, Peter had been keeping a little book of messages to himself as regards painting, and he’d kept those in a notebook. We were both very surprised to find the other not only using a similar system but also many of the messages being absolutely overlapping, you know…there was a complete correspondence between the messages. So subsequently we decided to try to work out a way of making that available to other people, which we did; we published them as a pack of cards, and they’re now used by quite a lot of different people, I think.
-Brian Eno, interview with Charles Amirkhanian, KPFA-FM Berkeley, 2/1/80
…from an introduction to Oblique Strategies
Obliques Strategies ….”Go Outside. Shut the door”
The Oblique Strategies website
Oblique Strategies courtesy of Eno Web
Edition 1 (1975) ……Edition 4 (1996)
Eno: words / lyrics / phonetic poetry – “Another Green World”
… and the Arena Interview re. Another Green World – definitely worth a watch
“Pro Session – The Studio as Compositional Tool” and extracst from that interview, giving specific technical explanations:
“Compression is quite interesting over a whole track; if you’re using severe compression and limiting at the same time, when you push one instrument up, the track is governed so that the overall level will never change. Pushing one instrument up effectively pushes the others down, so all you do is alter the ratio between the instruments where you make a move. I started to use this as a deliberate, compositional, sound-type device; it’s generally been ignored or regarded as a misuse of the equipment before, but I’ll let you judge for yourself. On Helen Thormdale from the No New York album (Antilles), I put an echo on the guitar part’s click, and used that to trigger the compression on the whole track, so it sounds like helicopter blades.
Naturally, all of these things are variable throughout the entire course of the music. These are the kinds of things that you, as a listener, don’t generally notice; some of them operate almost subliminally – they are the ambiance of a track, not the obvious aspects of the track. Those are very much the things that traditional production is concerned with. And they allow you to rearrange the priorities of the music in a large number of ways.”
“The first thing I had to do was extend it somehow, so I copied the 24-track onto another 24-track machine, four or five times, and I pieced them together, so I had the thing song-length by then. And you’ll hear, in a cleverly disguised fashion, exactly the same parts repeated. Which makes you think that Percy Jones of Brand X is an incredible bass player, because he does every complex, idiosyncratic thing three our four times in a row. That’s a trick I like using.
We had a recording Judy made in Germany of the telephone announcement you could call, where a lady would say, “Good evening, blah blah blah, we’re trying to apprehend the Baader Meinhoff terrorists, this is a recording of one of their voices,” and then the terrorist’s voice would come on, which had been recorded off another telephone when they were making ransom demands. The scenario of this piece was interesting, production-wise, because some of the record is set outside, on the streets, then it suddenly cuts to an airplane which is being hijacked. I wanted to get the effect of going from a very hectic, open space into a very tight, air-conditioned airplane. What I did to achieve that was take all the echo off of everything, and put a very peculiar, tunnel-type echo on things. To me, it works: I get this sense of a contraction of space, and the soft voices working over it. After that it’goes back outside, into the wide world again.
There are two pieces of mine, Skysaw from Another Green World, and A Major Groove from Music For Films (both Editions EG), which are exactly the same track, mixed differently, slowed down, and fiddled about with a bit. I also gave it to Ultravox for one of the songs on their first album. It’s been a long way, this backing track. Listen to all three, and you hear what kind of range of difference usage is possible. M386 on Music For Films is another one that’s had four different lives. This is actually quite similar to what reggae producers have been doing for a while. Once you’re on tape, there are so many variations you can make that you don’t really.need to spend all that money hiring musicians; you can do a great deal with one piece of work. So when you buy a reggae record, there’s a 90 percent chance the drummer is Sly Dunbar. You get the impression that Sly Dunbar is chained to a studio seat somewhere in Jamaica, but in fact what happens is that his drum tracks are so interesting, they get used again and again.”
Which puts me in mind of the first piece on Music For Airports (Editions EG). I had four musicians in the studio, and we were doing some improvising exercises that I’d suggested. I couldn’t hear the musicians very well at the time, and I’m sure they couldn’t hear each other, but listening back, later, I found this very short section of tape where two pianos, unbeknownst to each other, played melodic lines that interlocked in an interesting way. To make a piece of music out of it, I cut that part out, made a stereo loop on the 24-track, then I discovered I liked it best at half speed, so the instruments sounded very soft, and the whole movement was very slow. I didn’t want the bass and guitar – they weren’t necessary for the piece – but there was a bit of Fred Frith’s guitar breaking through the acoustic piano mic, a kind of scrape I couldn’t get rid of. Usually I like Fred’s scrapes a lot, but this wasn’t in keeping, so I had to find a way of dealing with that scrape, and I had the idea of putting in variable orchestration each time the loop repeated. You only hear Fred’s scrape the first time the loop goes around.
There are other examples of things I do with loops and editing based on fairly simple material, to get singular, very rare events I couldn’t have forseen. But perhaps I should mention that you only have control of your studio composition to the pressing plant – then the reproduction is completely arbitrary. So when I mix a record, I mix on at least two speaker systems – and often more than two – so I’m not mixing just for optimum conditions. Most of my records don’t sound good in optimum conditions, where there are very large speakers which are extremely well balanced and have lots of high and low frequencies. I mix, really, for what I imagine most people have medium-priced hi-fi – and for radio a bit as well. It’s the very naive producer who works only on optimum systems.”
Leave a Reply